In this Report, the ALRC recommends a new and principled framework striking a fair balance between the public interest in open and accountable government and adequate protection for Commonwealth information that should legitimately be kept confidential.
The principles underpinning the ALRC’s recommendations are that:
administrative and disciplinary frameworks play the central role in ensuring that government information is handled appropriately, and that every person in the information chain understands their responsibilities in respect of that information;
criminal sanctions should only be imposed where they are warranted—when the disclosure of government information is likely to cause harm to essential public interests—and where this is not the case, the unauthorised disclosure of information is more appropriately dealt with by the imposition of administrative penalties or the pursuit of contractual remedies;
there is a continuing role for properly framed secrecy offences—both general and specific—in protecting Commonwealth information, provided that they are clear and consistent, and directed at protecting essential public interests.
In this Report, the ALRC considers three broad areas for reform. First, the ALRC recommends the repeal of the wide catch-all provisions currently in the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth), and the introduction of a new general secrecy offence, limited to disclosures that harm essential public interests. Secondly, the ALRC considers the wide variety of other specific secrecy offences and recommends best practice principles to guide the review, repeal and amendment of these provisions. Thirdly, the ALRC considers the administrative frameworks governing those that handle government information and makes a range of recommendations to improve the management of government information within those frameworks.